Markets in Everything: Political Deniability Edition

by Henry Farrell on July 7, 2010

The Washington Monthly‘s “piece on the US Chamber of Commerce”: has a killer quote.

bq. It also established a branch of a front group, the Campaign for Responsible Health Reform, and hired a Little Rock Republican strategist to run it. The strategist, Bill Vickery, told me that his activities were “backed solely” by the Chamber. In other words, a large part of what the Chamber sells is political cover. For multibillion-dollar insurers, drug makers, and medical device manufacturers who are too smart and image conscious to make public attacks of their own, the Chamber of Commerce is a friend who will do the dirty work. “I want to give them all the deniability they need,” says [US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO] Donohue. That deniability is evidently worth a lot. According to a January article in the National Journal, six insurers alone—Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group, and Wellpoint—pumped up to $20 million into the Chamber last year.

It’s a very good piece on the Chamber’s business model and how Donahue in particular benefits from it.

Center for Ethics: Update

by Henry Farrell on July 7, 2010

I’ve received the below from my former colleague, Joe Carens, responding to the “boilerplate letter”: that has been sent to anyone who has written to University of Toronto officials deploring the proposed closure of the Center for Ethics.


I want to respond briefly to the “standard letter”: that the Provost, Cheryl Misak, is sending to those who write in support of the Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto. Her letter was posted previously on this blog. Cheryl is an eminent philosopher and a friend, but I think that her communication on this issue is misleading. One gets the impression from Cheryl’s letter that the Centre for Ethics had been expected to raise funds to sustain its activities and failed to do so, and also that the closure of the Centre is a regrettable necessity due to the financial crisis within the university. Neither is accurate.

The Centre was created five years ago under a university initiative to spark innovation. It was one of a few projects to which the university committed base funding, not “seed” money. It was always the plan that the Centre should raise major endowment over the long term, but the previous Dean who approved the Centre agreed that it would not be expected to do this in the first five years. The Centre has been very successful in raising funds for particular projects.

In the current climate, it may be necessary (if regrettable) for the University to close research centres that cannot pay for themselves, but it seems unreasonable to do so out of the blue, especially with one that has been as successful as the Ethics Centre at doing what it was previously asked to do. It would be far more reasonable to continue to support the Centre with university funding for a few years, perhaps at a reduced level, while expecting it to raise endowment or face closure.

Reading Cheryl’s letter you might think that the University of Toronto cannot afford even this temporary reprieve. I agree that the budget crisis is serious. There is a $50 million deficit in the Faculty of Arts and Science that has to be eliminated. However, the Dean is not proposing to save the Centre’s $308,000 budget. Rather he is proposing to redeploy much or all of it.

The University of Toronto faces a choice about how to use the “significant resources” that it plans to devote “to support the research and teaching of ethics” to use Cheryl’s words. We could, on the one hand, spend those resources to preserve an already existing and thriving research centre, recognized as one of the three or four best in the world in the area of ethics, or we could, on the other hand, spend those resources on whatever “ethics-based educational initiatives” are eventually proposed by the committee that the Dean plans to construct. The Dean does face some hard decisions in balancing his budget but this should not be one of them.

Joe Carens
University of Toronto